US Secretary of State John Kerry has urged the European Union to postpone a planned ban on EU financial assistance to Israeli organisations in the occupied Palestinian territories, a US official said.
Kerry made the request at a meeting with EU foreign ministers on Saturday at which he also called on them to support Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which resumed on July 29 after a nearly three-year hiatus.
The EU imposed restrictions in July, citing its frustration over the continued expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in territory captured by Israeli forces in the 1967 Middle East War.
A senior US State Department official told reporters in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius that Kerry called on the Europeans to consider postponing the implementation of EU guidelines on aid.
“There was strong support for his efforts and an openness to considering his requests,” the unnamed State Department official said.
‘Commitment to talks’
After meeting Arab League officials in Paris on Sunday, Kerry said that Israel and the Palestinians remained determined to push forward with peace talks.
“Despite tough decisions that have to be made and despite pressure that exists on both sides… both the Palestinians and Israelis have remained steadfast in their committment to continuing the talks,” Kerry said.
Ahead of talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in London later on Sunday, Kerry also said he planned to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “shortly” to discuss peace efforts.
Asked about her response to Kerry’s comments about the aid guidelines, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters the guidelines were simply “putting down on paper what is currently the EU position”.
Ashton announced, however, that the EU would send a team, headed by a senior EU diplomat, to Israel on Monday to make sure the implementation of the new guidelines was done sensitively.
“We of course want to continue having a strong relationship with Israel,” she said.
The EU team would talk to the Israelis about implementation of the new guidelines but not about renegotiating them, an EU source said.
The EU guidelines render Israeli entities operating in the occupied territories ineligible for EU grants, prizes or loans, beginning next year.
They angered Israel’s rightist government, which accused the Europeans of harming Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and responded by announcing curbs on EU aid projects for thousands of West Bank Palestinians.
Palestinians praised the guidelines as a concrete step against illegal settlement construction, which they fear will deny them a viable state.
Jewish settler leaders say the aid they receive from Europe is minimal.
But many in Israel worry about possible knock-on effects the EU steps may have on individuals or companies based in Israel that might be involved in business in the settlements, deemed illegal by the international community.
Israeli-Palestinian peace has been Kerry’s main foreign policy initiative since becoming secretary of state on February 1.
The core issues that need to be settled in the more than six-decade-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict include borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees, the future of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the status of Jerusalem.